City parks board advances plans for Spec Keene Stadium

Members of Salem’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on Thursday voted in support of an updated agreement with Willamette University advancing plans to use a stadium adjacent to Bush’s Pasture Park for a for-profit summer baseball league.

The agreement would allow Willamette University to encroach slightly on the city park for improvements at the university-owned Spec Keene and McCulloch Stadium.

Following concerns raised by neighbors, the board recommended a final agreement including a requirement Willamette offer shuttle service and other measures intended to address concerns about parking and impact.

Willamette and Salem Baseball plan to use the stadium as the home field for a new team in the West Coast League that includes the Portland Pickles. The team would host about 27 games each summer. The university would also update the softball stadium at 501 14th St. S.E.

The plans include added accessibility, new fencing and a new field light pole. The project received $3 million in taxpayer money from state legislators earlier this year, primarily because the development will allow local high schools to use the field for free. Lara Tiffin, who directs athletics for the school district, said high schools will use their own fields when the weather’s nice, but the turf fields will be a benefit when it’s rainy.

Under the agreement, the city would allow easements into the park for the renovations and Willamette University would take over maintenance of the nearby tennis court’s wind screens.

Proposed easements into Bush’s Pasture Park under the amended contract, shown in pink, as presented by Willamette University Athletic Director Rob Passage during a June 13 presentation to the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. (Courtesy/ Willamette University)

The agreement is scheduled to go before the Salem City Council on June 24. If approved, it will go through the city’s land use development process which includes a site plan review and review by the Historic Landmarks Commission, city Parks Planning Manager Rob Romanek said during the Thursday meeting.

Ahead of the meeting, 114 Salemites, many from Ward 2, which includes the park, signed a letter to the board opposing the plans organizer Joan Stembridge said during the meeting. Others submitted written testimony, and several spoke during the meeting.

“We are opposed to converting the legacy lands of the Bush Family, the park and parking lots, into a de facto summer baseball league facility for, in essence, a commercial for-profit operation which would provide revenue generation for Willamette University and a private corporate entrepreneur,” the letter says.

During public testimony, Evan West, vice president of the South Central Association of Neighbors, called it a commercialization of Bush’s Pasture Park.

Other neighbors raised concerns about foot traffic, the cost of cleaning up litter and that parking in the evenings is already mostly used even without an event.

When discussion began, board Chair Keith Norris said that the board’s decision would be limited to the scope of the agreement itself which doesn’t cover all the topics brought up.

Following public comment, the board passed a motion to recommend a modified agreement, asking that Willamette commits to offering a shuttle service between their parking lots and the stadium, that they supply parking attendants and to explore partnerships with Cherriots to explore alternative transportation on game days. It also asked that Willamette look into eco-friendly turf options.

The vote was 7-1 in favor of the amended motion, with member Alan Holland opposed, saying he was concerned by the neighborhood testimony and not convinced that Bush’s Pasture Park was the right location for the endeavor.

The parks board also asked that the city hold an annual review of the impact on Bush’s Pasture Park, including environmental concerns, noise and parking, and that the impacts be addressed through future amendments.

Board members said that other issues, like limiting light pollution and committing to writing how often the Salem-Keizer School District will use the field, will be addressed in other stages of the project.

“I personally am in favor of moving this forward to council knowing that there’s a long road ahead,” said member Zachary Hammerle.

Another member, Alan Alexander, said that he’d been convinced during the meeting.

“I appreciate all of the thoughts and I appreciate the willingness of this board to protect our citizens, to protect our parks and protect our city to make sure we’re getting the best deal we can,” he said.

Watch the discussion here:

CORRECTION: The agreement will go before the Salem City Council on Monday, June 24. An incorrect date was stated during the original meeting. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251

A MOMENT MORE, PLEASE– If you found this story useful, consider subscribing to Salem Reporter if you don’t already. Work such as this, done by local professionals, depends on community support from subscribers. Please take a moment and sign up now – easy and secure: SUBSCRIBE.

Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.